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So far this year, NorthPark Mall has been hit especially hard, with the closure of two chain retail stores and the liquidation of Younkers stores nationwide. But when a door closes, opportunity knocks.  

“Recapturing store space allows us to focus on bringing in new ideas and new uses to the center,”  Laura Crossman, corporate marketing manager for the Davenport mall, said. “NorthPark Mall serves millions of shoppers every year. With the right retail mix, plus strong dining and entertainment options, NorthPark Mall continues to be a powerful draw.”

This spring, both Tilly’s and Charlotte Russe closed in Davenport, but by fall, the spaces should be occupied with Iowa’s first-ever H&M store and Von Maur-owned Dry Goods. While mall managers have yet to comment on a plan for filling the space Younkers will leave when it closes this summer, Crossman said she is looking at every vacancy as an opportunity.

Along with malls suffering from retail closures across the country, she said NorthPark is working to stay afloat by offering unique stores and experiences that cater to both longtime and new tech-savvy customers.

Drop anchor

After a record-high number of store closures last year, 2018 is shaping up to be just as challenging for brick-and-mortar retailers, according to a report from Moody’s Investor Service. Thousands of store closures have been announced throughout the country, including by Bon-Ton, Toys ‘R’ Us, J.C. Penney and more.

“There’s been a decline in overall retailing, specifically, in kind of centralized shopping malls for a while now,” said Jim Bang, economics program director at St. Ambrose University, Davenport. “They’re trying to rethink how they use those spaces. Some are substituting what they used to have.”

In Davenport, the mall’s most recent loss has been Bon-Ton’s liquidation, causing one of its half-dozen anchor stores, Younkers, to close by the end of August. And even though some of NorthPark’s other anchors, such as Sears and J.C. Penney, have been announcing closures this year, Crossman doesn’t seem worried.

“Retail in general has been changing and we have adapted as well by bringing new retail uses to the center,” she said. “NorthPark Mall offers a vibrant indoor mall experience with department stores, specialty shops, restaurants and a fun food court. But the retail mix is always changing in line with shopper preferences and the arrival of new store concepts.”

Despite having a similar customer base to Younkers, Iowa-based department chain Von Maur announced plans to expand this year, including the opening of Dry Goods at NorthPark. A new boutique store, Apricot Lane, is also catering to young women. And to balance out the higher cost of products offered by Von Maur, H&M will also open in the fall, with price points closer to Old Navy or Gap.

While chain stores are big draws for customers, Crossman said NorthPark is also working on attracting local retailers. For example, 5-year-old locally owned ArtsyBug Studio relocated to NorthPark this year.

“Sourcing new retail and restaurant concepts is one of our company strengths, and there are a lot of exciting new retail ideas emerging today,” she said. “We also are focused on providing local entrepreneurs with a low-cost and flexible way to enter the retail scene.”

To replace the dying department anchors, some malls have turned to stores with the basic necessities, such as Target or Walgreens. Others have considered senior centers, apartments or other mixed-use facilities. But for now, even with talks of more chains shutting off lights, Crossman said replacing retail with retail remains a top priority.

Stay flexible

Despite watching business trends closely as St. Ambrose’s leading economics professor, Bang can only remember visiting NorthPark Mall twice in the past seven years.

“If I want to buy a really nice pair of pants and get the right size that fits me well, it’s actually a lot easier for me to do that online because they don’t carry things in stock lots of different places,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I went to the mall.”

Bang said, like many people, he turns to Amazon or online retailers for most of his shopping.

“I think, overall, people are looking to spend less on clothes and fashion, so a lot of trends in apparel are toward people buying things that are less expensive. Fast fashion and things like that are big,” he said.

Along with NorthPark adding H&M, some existing mall stores have been adapting to meet the market’s demand for cheaper clothing, or prices that can’t always be matched online. Express recently transformed into a factory store, for example.

Longtime mall employee Heather Young, who is now store manager of Francesca’s, said customers return to her store because of ongoing promotions and social media engagement.

“We’re seeing differences obviously with Amazon and more people buying stuff online, and that’s affected the whole retail community,” Young said. “But we see about the same traffic flow, and are busiest on nights and holidays. I think it’s because we have promotions all the time. We also offer a student discount.”

Graduation season has boosted business for the boutique chain, she said, as well as constant email boosts and live fashion shows streamed on Facebook.

“We try to bring the online world into our store,” she said, explaining Francesca’s allows customers to shop online and in-store at once. “And we play into the social media world as much as possible.”

While tenants are working to adapt with the changing market, often by engaging customers both on their phones and in-person, Crossman persisted many customers still want a real world shopping experience.

“Consumers clearly value both the instant gratification and the ability to touch and experience what they are purchasing,” she said.

Keep them occupied

While Young spends most of her time at the mall, and Bang does what he can to avoid it, both said they choose to shop brick-and-mortar when there’s a good reason to do so.

“People are spending more on things like services, like going out to eat more, vacations, or things that aren’t going to take up room in their house,” Bang said.

More malls, he said, are working to offer their customers unique experiences. He said that could mean fitness centers, theaters, salons or more outdoor walking space.

“When visitors come to our center they can have a well-rounded experience, from delicious dining and shopping name brand stores, to discovering local artists and evening the convenience of getting their hair done while their car is in for an oil change,” Crossman said.

At NorthPark, Crossman mostly highlighted restaurants, like the new R|C Brazilian Steakhouse.

“Brazilian is really now the only sit-down restaurant,” Young said, arguing the mall could do more to attract eateries. “Years ago you’d have two Mexican restaurants to choose from and you could sit down and enjoy a good half-hour lunch break.”

Crossman said the mall is constantly looking to draw more restaurants and also added several tenants are enticing customers with special events. Bubble Tea and other coffee shops have hosted local bands. ArtsyBug Studio will hold regular art classes. The mall is also home to the Quad-Cities Prayer Center.

“With our new event policies, we are making it easier than ever to host events at the center, so we welcome community groups to contact us,” she said. “We’ve been a community hub for 45 years and we look forward to continuing our strong involvement with the community.”

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